Dr. James O'Donoghue

Dr. James O'Donoghue

  • 301.286.0640
  • Mail Code: 695
  • Greenbelt , MD 20771
  • Research Interests

    Planetary Aurorae

    I use ground-based telescopes to observe and analyze the infrared aurorae of Jupiter and Saturn. With our data, I examine how the auroral properties, such as temperature, vary in response to the conditions of the magnetic fields around each planet.

    Saturn's "Ring Rain"

    The rings of Saturn are composed ~99% water ice. Smaller parts of this material are churned up by meteoric impacts and ionized by sunlight, leading to the formation of a charged ring atmosphere (a ‘ring ionosphere’). Charged material "feels" the magnetic field of Saturn, so some of the material is able to flow across the magnetic field lines and enter the atmosphere, falling as "ring rain". I study the effects of this "rain" on the upper atmosphere, after discovering it in 2013 (see publications).

    Heating above Jupiter's Great Red Spot

    We examined the upper atmosphere above Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS) using the NASA IRTF telescope. The upper atmosphere was far warmer than anywhere else on the planet, indicating a communication between the GRS and the upper atmosphere - which are, importantly, over 500 km distance away from eachother in altitude. We think that acoustic waves are being sent up by Jupiter's turbulent GRS, and then breaking in the upper atmosphere, releasing their energy. It is possible that this mechanism is in action elsewhere on the planet to a lesser extent, and if so, may explain the unusually high temperatures measured planet-wide.


    1/2017 - Present

    NASA Postdoctoral Fellow

    NASA/USRA, Goddard Space Flight Center, MD
    6/2016 - 12/2016

    Research Scientist

    Boston University, Boston, MA
    5/2014 - 6/2016

    Postdoctoral Associate

    Boston University, Boston, MA
    2/2014 - 4/2014


    Leicester University, Leicester, UK


    University of Leicester (UK), 2010-2014
    Ph.D. in Planetary Space Physics

    University of Wales, Aberystwyth (UK), 2006-2010
    BSc (First Class Hons) in Physics with Planetary Space Science

    Professional Societies

    American Geophysical Union, 2015 - Present
    NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration